HAPPY BAHAMIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY!! The Bahamas officially gained independence from the U.K. on July 10, 1973, making today the nation’s 44th birthday! I spent my summer working on the island of Eleuthera in 2013, allowing me to celebrate year 40 in true Bahamian style. In honor of their independence day, I have put together something of a guide to the northern side of Eleuthera.
Let me preface this by saying that I call the United States home, and when I want a beach vacation I go to America’s east coast. I have vacationed on quite a few of our barrier islands in the Southeast and love to park my car at my condo for my whole stay and bike not only to the beaches, but also to shops, grocery stores (for picnic supplies, duh), and any variety of restaurants. It’s a pretty common style of beach vacation where I come from. The first thing you have to do if you are visiting Eleuthera is take the picture I just painted and throw it away. Trash it. BYE! This is not the vacation you are taking. You are going on a f*%$@#g adventure! On the island of Eleuthera, you will find an abundance of gorgeous deserted beaches, and you will get to pick between waves, clear snorkeling water, pink sands, seashells, shade, literally whatever you want in a beach. Eleuthera’s got it. You won’t find the overcrowded towns or cruise ship ports for which the Bahamas is known. Eleuthera is what you make it, but in order to find the gems that are hidden away here, you’ll have to put on your safari hat and brave the road on your own. In my experience, there isn’t much tourism north of Governor’s Harbour (the largest centrally-located settlement), therefore there won’t be any guided excursions for you to passively join.
Honestly, an Eleuthera vacation could be a metaphor for life (we’re going big-picture here, people). Much like life, you can book a stay that’s right on a beach and near some fantastic food. And then you can spend your whole vacation (read: life) relaxing on a world-class beach and eating great food. But what about all the other beaches?! And not even just the beaches—think of all the other things and experiences you can discover if you leave the comfort of your beach and look around? Your beach will be waiting for you when you return; it isn’t going anywhere. Spread your wings and fly, my little birdies! There is so much out in the world to discover, whether it be in your hometown, across the oceans, or even inside yourself!
Enough, you say! Okay, I hear you, and we’re back to this island. Eleuthera is tall and skinny: about 100 miles long, but only two miles wide at it’s widest. This is how you have the joy of both the Atlantic Ocean to the east side (providing your big waves and deeper waters) and the Exuma Sound to the west (this is your super clear and shallower water). The Exuma Sound is the channel of water that separates Eleuthera from New Providence (home to the capitol city Nassau), and is, for all intents and purposes, the Caribbean Sea. Technically, this is called the Bahamas Bank, meaning the water is super calm and stays shallow because of the bank. Since the island is so narrow, either type of beach is fairly accessible from most places on the island. And if there are three other people on your chosen beach and that’s just too crowded for you, well…you can just walk to the next one. Did I say that out loud? Yes—I came home from the Bahamas as the world’s biggest beach snob. Ever. EVER. It’s been four years since my visit, and I think only now have I begun to accept that my American beaches actually aren’t that bad. I was just spoiled at a young age.
This is what Eleuthera does to a person.
So I have put together my thoughts and tips on some of the places with which I became familiar in my short few months on the island. I have never been south of Governor’s Harbour, so this is strictly about the north side of Eleuthera and what I personally experienced while there.
Things To See (That Aren’t the Beach)
Preacher’s Cave: This is an above ground cave at the northernmost point of the island. It’s the first place that English settlers found refuge after being shipwrecked on the island, so it’s cool to visit it for the history. It doesn’t really take more than five minutes to see the whole cave, and you won’t be crawling through crevices while watching for bats here. Preacher’s Cave is more of just a mouth of a cave. There is also a beautiful beach a very short walk away!
You can reach Preacher’s Cave by driving north on Queen’s Highway until it ends and then turning east (right) and following the signs that lead north (to the left). The road is unpaved and narrow, but that’s part of the adventure, right?
Glass Window Bridge: The name of this bridge can be somewhat misleading, but it’s a pretty neat place to see. Glass Window Bridge is where Queen’s Highway crosses over the narrowest point of Eleuthera between Gregory Town and Upper Bogue, only 30 feet wide! If you are facing north on the bridge, you can see the turbulent waters of the Atlantic to your right, and then all you have to do is turn your head to the left to see the calm, clear waters of the Caribbean! How cool is that?! If you are traveling north up Eleuthera, crossing Glass Window Bridge is literally mandatory, but it’s worth it to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the views. If you stick around, you may also see turtles from here!
North Eleuthera Ocean Hole: This place delighted and terrified me simultaneously! I only visited this ocean hole once, but it was amazing and truly hidden. The hole is tucked away in the bush, and the only way into the water is a 20-foot jump. I know it’s in the name, but the water is SO clear and SO blue! My only concern here is the ascent back out of the water—the climb takes you up slippery, steep, and uneven rock, and the only rope available to pull yourself out was questionable at best. Like I’ve said, this was four years ago and so there may a better rope now, or even no rope! I can’t say for sure! But I do know that, at the time, I had made a mental note to bring my own rope if I were to return. My fitness level is average and I was able to participate in the jump, but if you don’t feel capable of basically rock climbing the twenty feet out, don’t jump in. Also, make sure you keep your shoes on! The rocks can be sharp.
In attempt to be completely honest, I can’t say for sure that I would be able to find my way back here. If you turn right at the end of Queen’s Highway as if you were headed to Preacher’s Cave, the turnoff for the ocean hole will be somewhere on the right, and then there is a short, overgrown trail that leads to the hole. I even searched the Internet for more information and couldn’t find much, but I know that if you asked around while on the island someone would be able to steer you in the right direction. The question also came up about the hole possibly being on private property, so be aware and respectful on your pursuit of adventure.
Note: I did some reading on ocean holes, and for anyone else who knows as little about this as I did, a “cenote” is a sinkhole that’s filled with water. We call them “blue holes” when the entrance is underwater (like, in the ocean) and “ocean holes” when the entrance is above ground. There are multiple in Eleuthera, and they tend to be around 100 feet deep, some with species that are found nowhere else in the world.
Hatchet Bay Cave: Alright, this is about to be the world’s shakiest recommendation. My experience at the Hatchet Bay Cave wasn’t proper caving and was absolutely horrifying. Not only was this my first (and only) time caving, but I descended into the caves without any gear and had no concept of where I was going or how long I would be there. AND to this day, I’m not sure if anyone knew that my group was in the cave that evening, and so if something had gone wrong, well…I’m forever grateful that nothing went wrong. That being said, it’s a very different activity than all the beachy fun you’ll be having everywhere else, and worth a visit if you are confident in your ability to navigate the cave on your own. BRING FLASHLIGHTS. Or better yet, bring headlamps! Bring headlamps AND flashlights! There is a string to help guide you, and beware that there is a pool in the cave, and trekking into the depths may require you to get wet. There are also bats (that won’t bother but may startle you!), and the cave is undeveloped and wild. When driving north on Queen’s Highway, the turn for the cave is to the left (west) between Hatchet Bay and Gregory Town. Good luck!
Queen’s Bath: This is the ONLY thing I am adding that I have not personally seen with my own two eyes, and I’m only including it because it’s something I would like to see if I ever return! It’s a really cool rock formation just south of Glass Window Bridge on the Atlantic side that creates little “bath tubs” in the rocks at low tide. It is recommended that you wear sturdy shoes like Chacos if you visit, because you will be walking across jagged rock.
Preacher’s Cave Beach: Confession—I don’t actually know the name of this beach. When you visit Preacher’s Cave, this beach is a very short walk across the sand dunes from the cave. It’s nice and sandy, and almost guaranteed to be empty. It’s as far north as possible on Eleuthera and you are likely to see boats passing by in the distance. It also makes the drive to Preacher’s Cave a little more worth it!
Gaulding Cay: Confession number two—for the longest time I thought this beach was called “golden key.” I even called it “golden key” out loud a bunch and no one ever corrected me! This one is north of Gregory Town and south of Glass Window Bridge on the Caribbean side. The greatest things about this beach are the shady trees. String up a hammock, bring a picnic lunch, and stay a while—trust me, you will want to! On the west coast, this beach is great for kids because of the calm, shallow water.
Surfer’s Beach: It’s in the name, people. This beach is all about surfing. Situated south of Gregory Town (between Gregory Town and Hatchet Bay), Surfer’s Beach is on the Atlantic side of Eleuthera and is known for it’s world-class surfing. From what I’ve heard, the waves are best in the winter. As a non-surfer, though, I visited this beach in July and the waves were mild enough for me to try surfing for the first time! I remember practicing in the sand on the beach before going out into the water and thinking “I am covered in graham cracker crumbs,” because the sand was so coarse. There is a rock reef that extends out from the beach that you should be aware of if planning to surf here. This beach wasn’t on my regular rotation because I am not a surfer and it’s farther away from the main road than a lot of the other beaches listed here, but it’s a fantastic spot for water sports and is a hub for like-minded people. If you are not traveling with a board, you can rent one from Surfer Pete at Rebecca’s Beach Shop in Gregory Town.
Rainbow Bay Beach: Rainbow Bay Beach is probably the most easily accessible beach on this list. It is in Rainbow Bay right off of Rainbow Drive, and there is actually an area for parking here. It is also the best on this list for seashell hunting. Smaller in size, it hosts picnic tables as well as palm umbrellas for shade. The amenities, accessibility, and calm water make this a great family beach, but there are a few other beaches (such as Hidden Beach) nearby on the Atlantic side.
Cocodimama/Receiver’s Beach: The width of this beach is very shallow, making for almost no sand in between the tree line and water line…but this beach is spectacular. It was very close to where I was staying, so I frequented this beach over the course of the summer and it never disappoints. The beach is long, and the water is so clear and so shallow. I was able to walk unbelievably far from the beach and the water was still only knee deep, with little to no tidal movement. Of all the beaches I visited on Eleuthera, Cocodimama had the clearest water, and it’s great for finding sand dollars and other sea creatures. Once again, being on the Caribbean side makes it a good family location. The beach itself is called Receiver’s Beach, but a small villa-style hotel on the beach is called Cocodimama, and so that’s what we all called this beach. Cocodimama is pretty easy to find, a left turn off of Queen’s Highway heading north from Governor’s Harbour toward James Cistern.
Navy Beach: Navy Beach was my personal favorite, and was usually my choice beach to visit if I got to be in charge of the decision-making. It’s one of the many famed pink sand beaches of Eleuthera and lies on the Atlantic side, almost exactly opposite Cocodimama. Once upon a time in mid-20th century, there was a U.S. Naval base here, known as the “US Navy Experimental Facility, Eleuthera.” It was disbanded in 1980 leaving some cool ruins behind—meaning lots of fun for today’s explorers. The water is much more active here on the ocean side, and the beach is quite large and always deserted. I would not recommend swimming with small children here. The road leading to Navy Beach will be on the right heading north from Governor’s Harbour just before you reach Cocodimama, and is marked by an old, worn guard shack. If you follow the road (I remember it being long, but I was also usually on foot), there will be a very large paved area at the end, with the beach just through the trees. There is also a little herd of goats that hangs out here.
Old Club Med Beach: And we have worked our way all the way down North Eleuthera to Governor’s Harbour, home to this also-pink-sand beach. I really like this beach too, and it probably would have been a contender for my top spot had it been closer to my home base. There used to be a Club Med on this Atlantic-side beach back in the 90’s, but it no longer exists and I believe the beach is now officially called French Leave Beach. It has a long, pink sand beachfront, and the waves are a little calmer here than at Navy Beach.
Where to Eat
Laughing Lizard: This is a fantastic lunch spot (think sandwiches and salads). It has super yummy smoothies, and I got really addicted to the curry tuna salad, in wrap and salad form! Access to fresh produce is more limited than what I’m used to in the United States, and so I loved eating here, which I did at least once a week, if not more than that. Laughing Lizard is just north of Gregory Town and sits on Queen’s Highway to the east side (on the right if you are headed north).
Twin Brothers: Located in Hatchet Bay, this restaurant is best known for their daiquiris, and for good reason! I don’t remember the food here being anything special, but it’s worth getting a meal at Twin Brothers in order to relax and sip on some daiquiris…or just come for the drinks, whatever suits you!
Note: I honestly can’t remember most of the restaurants I ate at, but these two really stood out to me. I would recommend taking suggestions from locals, because a lot of the locally owned restaurants won’t necessarily stand out, but have great food! Be prepared to eat a lot of fried foods, and eat as much conch as you can!
Where to Stay
While in Eleuthera, I stayed at my company’s home base, and therefore didn’t have to worry about securing my own accommodations. There are plenty of boutique resorts and villa-style hotels available, but you won’t find towers of condos here. The two hotels I have listed here are ones that I visited during my stay, but I can make no comment regarding the rooms.
Sky Beach Club: This is a boutique resort just north of Governor’s Harbour, and I visited Sky Beach a few times for the pool (and once for lunch). The resort is secluded and away from the hustle and bustle (if you can call it that) of the nearby settlement, but close enough that it wouldn’t be hard to motivate yourself to visit town. The pool area is really nice, with lots of comfy lounging and a swim up bar in the pool!
Rainbow Inn: I also visited Rainbow Inn, located in Rainbow Bay, in order to use their pool. The evening I was there my group had the pool to ourselves. Rainbow Inn seems more quaint and homey to me than Sky Beach, and is also more centrally located to most of the sites and beaches listed here.
Airbnb: A quick search brought up quite a few vacation homes for rent in Eleuthera on Airbnb, especially in and around Surfer’s Beach and Governor’s Harbour. This is usually my choice for accommodations, and I’m happy to see that there are plenty of options and a large price range available on the island.
How to Get Around
Car rentals: I didn’t drive a single time while in Eleuthera so I am no expert on this (the company had a few cars and only a few employees authorized to drive them). However, if you are visiting the island and don’t plan to stay at your resort/hotel/beach house the whole time, you will most likely need a car. There is no form of public transit, making a car a necessity if you want to adventure. I think that a lot of “self drive” car rentals have cars available at the airports, but do not take my word for it! You won’t find the big car rental companies here, but a quick google search will lead you to plenty of contacts you can reach to set up a car for your stay.
Hitchhiking: Since I was without a vehicle of my own for the summer, I got very comfortable with hitchhiking. It’s common and safe, so you will likely be able to catch a ride along Queen’s Highway (as long as it’s not an evening on a holiday, speaking from experience). The trick with hitchhiking in Eleuthera is to stand still with your thumb visible, and look confident and friendly. Any time I heard a car coming, I would stop walking and stand there with the goofiest grin on my face, silently screaming “I’m really nice, please help!” And most of the time, the first or second car will stop, especially trucks. Make sure you are also standing on the side of the road where cars will be headed in the direction you want to go. The idea is to not have to cross the road, and if you are on the wrong side, the cars going the wrong way will be the ones stopping for you!
South Side of the Island
I personally never visited south Eleuthera, but I listed a few ideas of things to visit if your trip takes you south of Governor’s Harbour. I don’t know much about these places, but I have heard that Lighthouse Beach (which is at the southernmost tip of the island) is the most beautiful beach in Eleuthera.
Cape Eleuthera Institute
Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina
Princess Cays (cruise ship port)
Ocean Hole in Rock Sound
Other Things to Keep in Mind
Driving: There are no lines on the roads, but Eleutherans drive on the left side of the road! Be mindful of the fact that a lot of roads are very rocky with a lot of potholes, and there are no streetlights for nighttime driving. Driving drunk is also unfortunately somewhat common (I rode in a car with a friend who was sipping a whiskey coke literally while operating the vehicle, no big deal), so general caution on the road is advised. Since the island is not very densely populated, the traffic is super light, and it is normal for cars to drive in the center of the road instead of to one side.
Budgeting: You are on an island that isn’t super fertile, so most of what you consume (whether it be food or gas for your car) has been imported to the island. This means it will be more scarce and also more expensive. In 2013, gas prices here were double the average U.S. price, and produce is much less available. Eleuthera is called Pineapple Island, though, so usually pineapples will be available and you must buy at least one!
Exchange rate: U.S. currency holds a 1:1 exchange rate with the Bahamian dollar, so you don’t have to change over any of your cash. Most retailers will accept your American dollar, but may give you change in Bahamian dollars. I’m not sure about other countries–if you are traveling from somewhere else, I would look into changing some money prior to departing for your trip, as it’s always nice to have cash on hand just in case. I also believe there is an ATM in Governor’s Harbour.
Airports: There are three airports on Eleuthera, so make sure you are flying into the one that is closest to your home base! Double check what airport you book, because it would be no fun to fly into Rock Sound on the southern end and then realize you booked a room in Gregory Town 84 km away!
Bugs: The bugs in Eleuthera are no joke. Let me repeat myself: the bugs in Eleuthera are NO JOKE. I’m going to spare you guys from all the really gross pictures I took of people’s legs after they went to war with the noseeums, and hope you’ll just take my word for it. I am lucky and I guess I smell sour to the little critters (hopefully I don’t smell sour to humans??), and I got bitten a lot less than most of my coworkers. I think Deet smells awful and found a lemon-eucalyptus bug spray that I really like, but make sure you come prepared to douse yourself in bug spray of some kind every day. It also might be smart to make a fashion statement and wear long pants or a long skirt in the evenings when the bugs are at their worst.
Medical: The island is rural and does not have a large medical base. The fine print here is just to be smart. Don’t make dumb decisions. Don’t jump into water that is clearly shallow. Don’t try and do some crazy bike trick you’ve never tried before. Only drink bottled water. Because if you break a limb or come down with an illness, the nearest medical center is in south Florida. You’re looking at multiple hours of transit time before you will reach proper medical help. There is a nurse on the island for minor ailments and issues, but in general, try not to need medical help at all! Just be smart.
Safety: In general, Eleuthera is extremely safe. Like, I-hitchhiked-alone-as-a-young-female safe. Like, park-your-car-and-leave-your-keys-in-the-ignition safe. Of course this is all general, but most of the time the only tragedies that happen in Eleuthera are car accidents. The Bahamians who live here are friendly and hospitable, and (like all humans) expect a little respect and they will be happy to give whatever help/conversation/friendship/advice they can.
Whew! If you made it this far, you are a CHAMPION! That is pretty much all of my knowledge regarding Eleuthera, all in one convenient location. I think if I were to ever return to the island, I might stay in Governor’s Harbour to be central, so that I would have the opportunity to revisit all my old favorites, but also be far enough south to take on some new adventures!
What about you? Would you take a vacation to Eleuthera? Or have you visited North Eleuthera and loved something that I didn’t mention? Let me know!
And have a wonderful Bahamian Independence Day!